Friday, June 03, 2011

Vikings Give Nod to Ponder

When the Minnesota Vikings selected quarterback Christian Ponder in the first round of this year's NFL draft, Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier stated that the selection had no bearing on who would be the team's starter in 2011 and that the competition for the position remained "an open one." If common sense were not enough to tell you that this is not the Vikings' plan, this week's events ought to.

Having used a high first-round draft pick to select Ponder, the Vikings left themselves only two meaningful options at quarterback in 2011. One option is to sign a veteran quarterback to hold the position while Ponder learns the playbook and gets up to speed on the speed and designs of the NFL. The other is immediately to throw Ponder into the fire.

Neither option is very appealing for a team half-filled with aging stars and laden with a weak offensive. But, given the high-draft pick invested in Ponder, both options are far more sensible--save for considerations of Webb's talent that the Vikings clearly have no interest in--than starting Webb. For starting Webb only opens the Vikings up to criticism for using this year's pick on Ponder, should Webb, as one ought to expect, perform well at quarterback. No doubt, the Vikings have no interest in treading down that path.

This week's events only further laid bare the Vikings' true intentions regarding Ponder, however. At the outset of the week, the Vikings leaked that Ponder was orchestrating a mini-camp of his own to include several veterans--most notably, Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice. The leak was intended to demonstrate that Ponder had both the ear of veterans and the work ethic of an already entrenched NFL quarterback. That was to have been the springboard for the Vikings' Fall decision to give Ponder the nod at starting quarterback.

Of course, the entire episode was orchestrated by the Vikings and was not instigated by Ponder, who, nevertheless, undoubtedly welcomed the opportunity to step into the starter's role without ever competing for the position on the field. But the affair backfired when key veterans--Harvin, Rice, and Berrian, if Berrian can be considered a "key" anything--opted out of the mini-camp, leaving Ponder essentially to work out with rookies.

The situation became more embarrassing for the Vikings and Ponder when Ponder revealed that he had access to a limited version of new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's playbook for 2011--access that Webb apparently was not afforded.

The result of the Ponder mini-camp was to leave the Vikings appearing obsessed with demonstrating Ponder's leadership abilities, an attribute clearly intended as early justification for granting Ponder a leg up on Webb in the starting quarterback race while also justifying the team's failure, should it come to pass, for not signing a legitimate veteran quarterback to take over if and when Ponder shows he is not ready to start behind a shaky offensive line.

The Vikings have made their decision at quarterback for the long haul. There is no question that they believe that Ponder is the right player to lead the team. But force-feeding Ponder as leader to the fans smacks too much of former coach Brad Childress' obsession with foisting upon the fans Tarvaris Jackson and not enough of the new, low-key professionalism that was to have been the Frazier regime. For Vikings' fans, the hope is that the result at least differs this time.

Up Next: Barnum Would Have Loved Ramsey County.